My First Computer
by Patricia Rice
In the 1980s, rural America was not a guiding light of technology. I distinctly remember a university club meeting where the speaker told us about the wonders of household computers. When quizzed on what on earth we would do with one, the speaker told us it would be marvelous for filing recipes.
At the time, I was a CPA and a budding novelist. I’d been writing my books on an old Underwood using white-out and carbon paper. After I sold my first novel, I graduated to a sleek Smith-Corona electric with erase-a-tape. I admired with awe the enormous word processing machines wielded by the secretaries at work, but I knew I could never afford such luxury on five-hundred-dollar advances.
Then the computer age reached even our dark outpost. The company my husband worked for purchased desktop computers from a town up the road. A year later, another computer company popped up in a university town thirty miles away. Competition is a beautiful thing. When I checked out the new business, and they learned where my husband worked, they swept back the magic curtain and voila! A personal computer I could almost afford—the Leading Edge.
I don’t think that business ever sold those simple LEs to the only corporation around, but they sold several to me over the years, along with those dreadful dot matrix printers. The Leading Edge was a thing of beauty, with a word processing system so very basic that even I understood it. Unfortunately, the first original documents I created on it were eaten by ghosts. I’d type a few pages, the computer would flicker, and poof, my words disappeared.
The computer technician practically lived at my house those first months. I think he bought my desk chair when we moved, he’d become so attached to it. After rescuing as many of my documents as he could—and teaching me to give each an individual name instead of Chapter One—he decided the problem was with the electricity in our sixty-year-old house. He sold us our very first UPS. It burned up in a month.
We rewired the house for that computer. The ghosts continued to eat my words. I called the electric company (It was a very small town. As the local CPA, I audited them and knew who to call). Electricians trudged all over our yard and street and swore there was nothing wrong with the wires running to our house. The machine continued to flicker and eat my pages. I continued writing in long hand and using the computer as a fancy typewriter so I wouldn’t lose any more words. My love/hate relationship with technology began with that Leading Edge.
I think it was a year later that an explosion on the street behind our house blacked out half the town, including me and my Leading Edge. The electric company trudged back out, checked my wires, checked the transformer on our pole, and lo and behold—the ghosts had eaten it too.
As Dave Barry famously said: “I am not making this up.”